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The Lobbyist Menace and Our Armed Forces

Abdul Mannan

by tbhad

In the recent times lots of dust has been raised on the so called US Sanction against Bangladesh’s elite law enforcing agency Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB) few serving and retired senior officers. US also declared that such sanctions will also be imposed on persons who according to US will hinder the smooth holding of the coming 12th national parliament election. This step by US is commonly known as   ‘Visa Restriction’. Not satisfied with all these fracas came the group of six  Republican and Six Democrat Congressmen who appealed to the US President Joe Biden to take stock of situation vis-à-vis human rights in Bangladesh along with so called `deficit in democracy’ in this country. Both letters were similarly worded though later the US Department spokesperson expressed his ignorance of existence of any such letters. Following the footsteps of these twelve US congressmen came a similar letter from the US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) with very similar demands. Six members of European Parliament went a step further and demanded the release of the Chairman of BNP Begum Zia who has been convicted by the Apex court of the country for embezzlement of public funds for personal gains and is currently serving her prison terms. They also raised a bogy of unfounded `minority persecution’ during Sheikh Hasina’s term as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Immediately the community leaders of the minorities including the Reverend Cardinal in Bangladesh expressed their annoyance and dissatisfaction over such letters with mala fide intentions and said no such persecution is taking place in Bangladesh. The letter from the members of the EU parliament seemed it was a letter from the European wing of the BNP. Mention must be made that EU parliament is made up of 705 members of which 76 are from Italy alone and it is an organization in pan-European political groups according to their political stance. Italy is an important development partner of Bangladesh. Six out of 705 members becoming concerned about the so called `democracy deficit’ in Bangladesh and demanding the release of person convicted under the criminal law of the country is just not only audacious but also preposterous and insignificant  to take into cognizance. They must realize that Bangladesh is not a vassal state of any other country.

On a number of occasions it was mentioned that the so called US visa policy is a hollow announcement as the prerogatives of issuing the visa is the domain of the issuing country. Issuance of visa does not guarantee entry of a person in another country. One holding the visa can only walk up to the on-duty immigration officer at the port of entry. If that officer is satisfied then only he or she will allow the person to enter his destination and for any refusal they are not required to show any reason. They may even cancel the visa. Those who are kicking unnecessary dust over the issue are simply ignorant as to how the system works.  For example a journalist intending to enter Bangladesh or India usually has to go through some extra scrutiny and there are evidence when visas were refused to such professionals.

All these sabre rattling against Bangladesh and its present government are alleged to be the results of spending a staggering amount of money by BNP and their allies for hiring lobbyist firms in US to lobby their cause to unsettle the political stability in Bangladesh. The Congressmen or the EU Parliament members who wrote these letters have least idea about the political culture of Bangladesh and none of them have ever visited Bangladesh. Lobbying is very common profession in US and are mostly done by firms close to US political circle and one can hire any lobbyist for any purpose ranging   from getting market access of any product or service to securing a contract or even for making immigration easy for family members of an immigrant. Lobbying for political gains though not very common are done by some interested quarters. It is known from published media sources currently Bangladesh’s rabble rousing political party BNP hired the Blue Star Strategies and Rasky Partners lobbying firm in 2018 to lobby for furthering their unconstitutional political demands in Bangladesh with the US government (Theodoric Meyer and Marianne Levine, Politico Portal, 14 September 2018). According to Politico this was disclosed by the US Department of Justice. One Abdus Sattar acted as the agent to hire the lobbying firms (The Financial Express, 14 September 2018). Though these lobbying firms were appointed during the Trump administration it seems that Donald Trump or his administration had no interest in these issues or had any intention to meddle in the internal affairs of any country outside US. The Politico also mentions how much money BNP pays to the lobbyists per month and the total amount may be staggering. According to Shahriar Alam, the State Minister of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh this amount is US$ 3.75 million. In US all institutions must declare their source of income from all sources while filing their tax returns. The most interesting thing is that US President’s son Hunter Biden a professional lobbyist is associated with Blue Star. Hunter Biden has been accused of tax fraud and has already pleaded guilty. He also suffers from drug and alcohol abuse.  Besides the lobbyist firms working for BNP and their allies in US there are few other outfits who are doing the similar jobs. A former US Ambassador in Bangladesh William B Milam is on the advisory board of an online journal titled ‘South Asian Perspective’ while one time Assistant Press Secretary of Begum Zia, Mushfique Fazal Ansarey is the Executive Editor of the journal.  He on a regular basis asks embarrassing and irreverent questions during the regular press briefing at the White House or by the State Department. His filed reports are frequently published by few local media in the online versions whose editors are known as pseudo progressive media personalities. Another former US diplomat in Bangladesh Joe Danilowlcz is the Editor at Large of the journal. The journal has an office in Washington DC and though the journal says it will deal with issues relating to South Asia its primary function seems to be firing regular political salvos and preaching misinformation against the current Bangladesh Government and Sheikh Hasina. Danilowlcz has close link with Jamaat’s legal counsellor Tobby Cadman, who worked in the international arena to disrupt the trial of criminals of 1971 in the Bangladesh’s War Crimes Tribunal. From some   recent tweets by Jon Danilawicz it is known that he was stationed in Dhaka during the 2007-2008 army backed Care Taker Government of Fakhruddin Ahmed and was very active in Dhaka at that time and also was an active proponent of the ‘Minus Two’ formula. Currently Jon masquerades as a pro-democracy `activist type’ in Washington DC, writing for the South Asian Perspective and appears in a pro-BNP forum `Right-2Freedom’.

The most outrageous demand was made by the HRW asking the UN Under Secretary General Jean Pierre Lacorox to publicly voice his concerns over according to HRW `abuse by government security forces’ during his upcoming visit to Dhaka (June 25-26). HRW just played to the tune of undemocratic and anti-Bangladeshi forces to preach their senile and preposterous demand when the role of Bangladesh’s security forces serving as UN Peace Keepers in many countries in Africa, Europe, Haiti and East Timor has been hailed not only by UN but also by the people of the country they serve in. Bangladesh security forces began serving as US Peace Keepers in 1988 and so far approximately 83,000 Peace Keepers from Bangladesh, including in Command Positions has served in UN missions of which 166 Bangladeshi Peace Keepers sacrificed their lives to maintain peace in other countries. Today Bangladesh is the number one contributor in the UN Peace Keeping Missions. The irresponsible demands of the HRW on the instigation of the local anti-Bangladeshi elements again expose the incompetence and irresponsibility of organizations like HRW which is ever active to demean the sovereignty of a nation. It is the same HRW that wanted to block the trials of the criminals of 1971 in the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh. The same HRW never speaks out against the regular gross violations of human rights in US. In US still the Blacks are treated like the slaves of 19th century. HRW always works in collaboration with a shady organization like ‘Odhikar’ and `Mayer Dak’ in Bangladesh. It virtually shut their eyes when this country was being ravaged by the militants or when the goons of BNP and Jamaat went on rampage in the South Bengal following the 2001 general election. They unleashed a reign of terror killing thousands and rampantly raping women and under-aged children. Thousands were uprooted from their homes and compelled to flee their country. In 1977 the founder of BNP, the country’s first military ruler General Ziaur Rahman on the pretext of waging a coup to unseat him hanged about one thousand soldiers virtually without any trial. HRW looked the other way round. Their watch is always selective while watching like the bird watchers.

Bangladesh’s security forces are the pride of the country and they are the fruit of our War of Liberation.  It is not the security force which Zia and Ershad used to usurp power. It is the force that has proved its worth in critical times of the nation. It has protected the sovereignty of the country and ensured the security of the North Eastern States of the India. It is the force which is currently fighting to uproot the armed insurgents in Chittagong Hill Region of Bandarban and Khagrachhari. Attempts to pit the country’s security forces against the government and the people are not only seditious but also dangerous. All quarters must refrain from such dangerous activities. UN Under Secretary is coming to Bangladesh to attend a preparatory meeting of the UN Peace Keeping Ministerial Meeting in 2023 to be held in Accra, Ghana, on December 5-6. All member states including Bangladesh are expected to attend the meeting. The UN Under Secretary may not have the time to comply with the HRW wishes. Let Bangladesh’s security forces discharge their duties without any outside unwarranted interference.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator

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